Felipe Fernández-Armesto’s OUR AMERICA: A HISPANIC HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES
Book review by Dennis D. McDonald
This long history book takes the reader from the earliest days of Spanish exploration and colonization in the Americas to the present-day fight over immigration in the U.S. The book is an antidote to the Eurocentric U.S. history lessons that so many of us grew up with in the Midwest and the Eastern U.S. as we follow the Spanish in their search for gold, the subjugation of native peoples, the long and (for me) confusing relationship between the U.S. and Mexico, and the longstanding official and unofficial discrimination against Mexicans and Spanish-speaking people generally.
The author is attempting not just to teach the reader about our extensive and fundamental Latin heritage but also to show how “Americanization” really works as cultures interact, clash, and evolve.
For someone like me who was raised in a “whitebread” Midwestern suburb most of the historical details presented here are new. I had only a vague understanding of how extensive Spanish exploration was in the West and Southwest and viewed with some horror how military might and religion worked together to further colonization by Spain.
Looking to more recent times the discrimination against Mexicans and Spanish-speaking immigrants is documented in a way that surprised me but may come as no surprise to my Spanish-speaking relatives. The government-sanctioned takeover of land owned by Mexican and Spanish speaking families in California and Texas is a harsh parallel to the U.S. treatment of American Indians.
I think the author does a better job of presenting the “sweep of history” in understandable terms via personal and event driven details then he does with analyzing where all this is going. Still, there’s no question in my mind that the book is a long overdue and readable account of an important part of American history that has been overlooked for too many years.
I hope that the history books now used in U.S. grade and high schools are more reflective of the diverse roots that make up our constantly evolving American culture. I have to also assume, unfortunately, that there will be battles over how negative historical details are presented in textbooks. Sometimes the truth is just not pretty.
Personally I’m a big fan of history. Many of the books I review here deal with history. How will those not really interested in history learn about the events detailed in this book? I’m not really sure; I’m not an educator. Maybe we can at least hope that the popular English- and Spanish-language media in the U.S. will occasionally address the historical evidence presented here, just as more “traditional” Eurocentric historical events and people are portrayed.
I have to believe that the resulting “blended” view of where we came from will be a natural outgrowth of the increasing diversity of U.S. society. For some that will only happen when the current generation of white traditionalists dies off and is replaced. I hope we don’t have to wait that long. Books like this certainly help!
- Melvyn Bragg’s THE ADVENTURE OF ENGLISH
- Drew Gilpin Faust’s THIS REPUBLIC OF SUFFERING: DEATH AND THE AMERICAN CIVIL WAR
- Junot Díaz’ THE BRIEF WONDROUS LIFE OF OSCAR WAO
- Sarah Vowell’s ASSASSINATION VACATION
- David McCullough’s THE PATH BETWEEN THE SEAS
- Will Eisner’s THE PLOT: THE SECRET STORY OF THE PROTOCOLS OF THE ELDERS OF ZION
- Anthony Lewis’ FREEDOM FOR THE THOUGHT THAT WE HATE: A BIOGRAPHY OF THE FIRST AMENDMENT
Review copyright © 2015 by Dennis D. McDonald